February 13, 2013

Chasing Chickadees

After nine birds, four Chickadees and two hours, a possible hybrid was found

by Amie Sites

— A group of people crowded around a kitchen window with their eyes trained on a bird feeder. A male woodpecker with a red head was moving near the opening but it wasn’t the bird they were looking for. They wanted the Chickadee located on the lowest branch of the tree, near the feeder.  

Wind, 35-degree temperature and some snow didn’t stop Brad Bumgardner,interpretive naturalist at the Indiana Dunes State Park, Landon Neumann and Bud Dodrill from searching for a hybrid chickadee in Logansport Monday.

Neumann, a 16-year-old boy from Logansport, is home-schooled and has been interested in birds since a school science program, he said. He talked with Bumgardner and they set a time to meet, band and release birds to see if there was a Chickadee hybrid. A state and federal licenses is required for bird banding.

“Ninety-five percent of banding I do is at the Indiana Dunes State Park, but I go on trips like today in Logansport, five or six times a year,” Bumgardner said. “Licensed bird banding assures birds won’t be hurt in the process.”

They started at 11 a.m. at Dodrill’s house with the ultimate goal to catch as many Chickadees as possible. Neumann and Dodrill, a Logansport man and fellow bird enthusiast, began birding together a year ago. Dodrill said he became interested because he wanted to take photographs of something different.

“Landon’s the pro,” Dodrill said. “We’ve stayed mostly in Cass County and France Park. It’s been an experience; he’s a sharp kid.”

Cass County lies in a special overlap zone where the Carolina and Black-capped Chickadee meet, allowing the possibility of a hybrid.

“I’m sure this overlap is not static, but moves with climate change, reproductive success, etc.,’ Bumgardner said. “This line extends throughout both of their ranges from Iowa to the Appalachians. In Indiana, Lafayette to Fort Wayne is a god line to draw that separates the two species.”

With the feeder not attracting the Chickadee, Bumgardner decided to put up a net attached to two poles. The net was barely visible and when birds flew into it, a pocket was created where they would be until they were taken out.

Around 12:30 p.m., a chickadee was in the net. Bumgardner took the measurements, wing and tail span and weight in a smaller room. As he measured, he held the bird in his hand. Bumgardner declared the bird a Carolina Chickadee.

“That’s why we’re not in the living room of the house,” Bumgardner said. “They have gotten loose before.”

While banding birds, Bumgardner didn’t flinch as the bird pecked his hand.

Each band has a number on it, allowing people to find information on the bird, such as behavior, migration, life span and more. After taking measurements, they release the bird outside.

The net assisted in catching nine birds, three of which were Carolina chickadees with nothing to lead Bumgardner to believe they were hybrids.

After two hours they found a possible hybrid. The fourth Chickadee and final bird caught had a wing length of 62 mm and a tail length of 58 mm. The measurements on a chart placed the bird on the Black-capped Chickadee side. Bumgardner placed a band around the bird and said it was the best chance of being a hybrid because of the measurements and characteristics.

Bumgardner said the day went well, revealing a possible hybrid Chickadee.

“More work will need to be done,” Bumgardner said. “Given the overlap zone, our results could be different 10 miles away. If our bird was indeed a hybrid - how close is the resident black-capped Chickadees? Perhaps some genetic work would help too.”

Indiana bird facts

800 bird watchers

420 species of birds

Banding requires a state and federal permit

For more on this story and other local news, subscribe to The Pharos-Tribune eEdition, or our print edition